Christine And Ziggy


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Scene Title Christine and Ziggy
Synopsis Two women who've met before meet again and exchange proper introductions.
Date January 7, 2021

Red Hook Market

The Red Hook Market at noon is a bustling place these days. Those who don’t like to wait in lines for food at the food stalls tend to come earlier or later in the day. For others, there is something to be said for the energy that comes from crowded places, from bumping elbows (literally) with a diverse cross section of the Safe Zone’s denizens.

Chess Lang falls into neither of those groups; she’s here because it’s her lunch time, her work is in Red Hook, and a girl’s gotta eat.

In theory, anyway.

At the moment she’s staring at a menu board of one food stall, as if deciding if that’s where she wants to spend her money. Brightly written on the blackboard in neon colors are the options: Korean barbecue tacos, soy garlic fried chicken, pot stickers, and kimchi wraps, under the shop name of “Cho Down,” named for the cook and owner, Kenny Cho.

The words of the menu must be seared into her retinas at this point, though, for Chess has been standing there a few minutes, her eyes on the same spot for far too long to actually be reading anything.

Coming to stand not quite shoulder-to-shoulder with Chess, but close enough in a way necessitated by the crowding of people going about their business, is a blonde woman dressed in a blue wool swing coat, a pair of black-framed glasses on her face that saves her from squinting at the board while she too decides what she’d like to have for lunch. Most notable about her is the cane she leans on, with a small crystal sphere set in the pommel.

“If you haven’t been here before, the pot stickers are amazing,” the blonde opines. “I always say I’m going to get something different, but I never do. But do I get the tacos or the fried chicken?” She sighs softly. “The kimchi’s out. I have to sing tonight.”

“Oh,” Chess says, after the awkward, ten-second-or-so pause that comes between the stranger speaking and Chess realizing she’s being spoken to. “I have, I’m just…” there really isn’t a good answer here, not one she can verbalize succinctly for someone she barely knows. She can barely verbalize it for herself.

“Zoning out, apparently,” she says instead, glancing over at the other woman, then downward, tugging a small, basics-only wallet from the pocket of her coat — a rich mustard yellow, and one she regrets buying, but bought it on a whim to try to wear more color and not always reach for the black she tends to wear more often than not.

“Go ahead of me, if you know what you want. Is Kimchi bad for singing?” she wonders politely. “Where do you sing?”

There’s a bright smile for the interest. “The vinegar can be rough on the vocal cords, also the heat. I like both, but my voice does not.” She laughs softly. “I, ah, sing at a jazz club on Staten Island. Rossignol. We just had our grand opening in November.”

Blue eyes give a cursory up-and-down look over Chess. Her smile renews. “I really like your coat. Yellow’s my favorite color.” A clutch wallet is drawn out of her purse. It’s a turquoise thing adorned with silhouetted poppies, a gilded cage, and the navy shade of a bird flying through the open door of it. Accidentally grabbed along with it is a lanyard with credentials for Raytech, identifying the woman in the picture — the one standing next to Chess — as Doctor Ourania Pride.

“Don’t need you,” Ourania sing-songs under her breath, pushing the ID back into the depths of her bag. She still gives the board a squint of consideration, indecisive yet. A peek inside her wallet at least confirms that she did remember to replenish her cash, so she’ll be able to eat lunch after all.

“It’s not mine, and I worry it makes me look sallow, but it was a bit of a whim and I’m trying to give in to those a little more than I usually do. “ Glancing down at her coat as if to remember what the coat looks like, Chess catches sight of first the cane and then the ID card, and suddenly the voice becomes familiar, one she’s heard before.

“Ourania,” she murmurs, then looks back up to the face she’s seeing for the first time. “I thought you seemed familiar. It’s nice to see you have an actual face,” she teases, then shakes her head at the stupid joke. “Sorry. I’m Chess. We met — kind of? — at the gala that was not so much. I guess I missed the fireworks that night. You seem to catch me only when I’m wearing bright colors, or something. This is probably the first time since then I haven’t worn all black.” That’s not true, but it’s almost true.

She gestures to the food. “Do you want to order and, I don’t know, eat together? I usually just bring it back to the office but I could use some time away, maybe.”

“I don’t think it does at all,” Ourania says of the coat, her tone bright. “The world needs more sunshine. It’s nice to see more of it. So, thank you for indulging in a bit of whimsy.” Her eyes narrow faintly, crinkling at the corners with her mirth. “It’s made my day. I hope that helps some with your uncertainty about your choice.”

Her attention turns back to the menu until she hears her name and her head swivels back to the woman at her side, caught off guard and looking a bit like a deer caught in the headlights. At least until it’s explained where the two know each other from. Ourania’s face lights up again with the recognition, her smile returning. “Ziggy Stardust!” With the recognition comes instant relaxation. “It’s so nice to see you again, Chess.”

There’s a small bubble of laughter when Ourania realizes that the other woman is genuine in her desire to want to grab lunch together. It’s still a novelty to her, people wanting to spend time with her for anything other than a working lunch. Or Sera. Sera is… Sera. “That sounds really lovely. I’d love to join you. You know what? In fact, my treat. Don’t protest. If you don’t like it, you can buy next time.”

“I’ll never live down that costume,” Chess says, when Ourania calls her ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ Though now that it’s a pet name Castle’s given her, she doesn’t particularly want to. “Maybe that’s why I decided to try the yellow. I’d like it on other people. It’s just still a bit of a shock when I see it on myself. But thank you. I’m glad I don’t look like Big Bird.”

When Ourania offers to pay, Chess’ lips part to protest, but close again in the next second when she’s told not to. She looks uncertain for a moment, but smiles finally.

“Okay, but I’ll hold you to that,” she says, before eyeing the menu board again. “If we get the pot stickers and the tacos, we can split and have half of each,” she suggests. “That way you can finally try something else but still have your favorite.”

The person in front of them in line moves to the ‘pick up’ window to wait for their newly ordered lunch, and the young woman, Kenny’s daughter Grace, behind the counter smiles, recognizing two of Cho’s regulars. “What can I get you two?”

“Not like Big Bird at all,” Ourania laughs quietly with a shake of her head. “For one thing, you aren’t nearly tall enough,” she teases. The other woman is shorter after all. “Neither of us is,” she’s quick to point out, lest she think the joke is entirely at her expense.

When the suggestion of compromise is made, the taller blonde’s brows lift with surprise. “I like the way you think, Miss Chess.” Ourania offers a small grin, already starting to pull the bills out of her wallet. From what Chess is able to glimpse, the lounge singer isn’t hurting for cash. “Good afternoon, Grace! My new friend and I here are going to split the pot stickers and the tacos.” She’s always gracious and polite, a great tipper, but it’s not often she’s quite so cheerful.

With their order place, cash exchanged and tip box stuffed generously, she steps aside to the pick up window. “Sorry, maybe it’s presumptuous to say friend, but it sounds so much better than person I’ve met twice and can now call an acquaintance.

The height joke doesn’t seem to offend Chess, and she huffs a short laugh at the apology that comes after Ourania orders. “Well, that’s a bit of a mouthful. Besides, I can always use more friends,” she says with a shrug, hands slightly into the pockets of her golden coat. “The few I can say I have were all met in pretty dire situations, so it’d be nice to have more that don’t come with lots of shitty memories, you know?”

Chess laughs again, glancing down and shaking her head. “Sorry. Maybe this is why I don’t have friends,” she murmurs. “I seem to fall somewhere between ‘sullen and silent’ or ‘rambling’ when it comes to conversation. You’re probably regretting everything except the pot stickers by now.” Her smile appears again, toothy but fleeting.

She nods to Ourania’s bag, into which the ID badge had disappeared. “You work for Raytech then? What’s that like?”

“No, I…” Chess’ own apology is met with a shake of Ourania’s head. “Would you believe I totally get that? It’s nice to have friends that aren’t forged in the heat of battle, so to speak.” Given the war in recent history, that might be a little more literal than it seems at first blush. “So, consider us friends, then.”

Now she smiles encouragingly. See? There’s absolutely nothing to regret about this impromptu lunch date where Ourania’s concerned. The mention of her place of employment draws a look of confusion, however, until she remembers her badge was out earlier. “Well, I’m a scientist. I’ve worked a few places over my career and Raytech is by far the best. Never been treated better. So many places just look at you as a glorified brain in a jar. Just a means to an end.”

Ourania shrugs. “That doesn’t happen at Raytech. So, I guess I’d say it’s great. Executive management is involved, but not micromanaging. They hire us because they trust us to do our jobs. It’s a really nice change of pace.” There’s a sudden sheepishness to her. “Now it’s my turn to ramble, I guess.”

Chess huffs a small, breathy laugh at the mention of ‘battle,’ but she doesn’t seem offended by it. Her brows lift, impressed, at the talk of being a scientist, and she nods, pushing a strand of blond hair back behind her ear.

“I have never been considered a glorified brain in a jar or any sort of container,” she says wryly, “but the means-to-an-end thing, I can definitely identify with.” Not that that work could be considered actual employment. She certainly can’t put what was dubbed terrorism on a resume.

“I don’t do anything that’s a means to much, now. Just administrative assistant stuff, over at Deveaux.” She tips her head in the direction the Clocktower Building is — or at least she thinks it is. “And I’m super unqualified to even do that, if I’m honest, but luckily my bosses are patient with my lack of understanding anything remotely professional.”

Their order is called, and Chess murmurs, “I got it,” to go pick up the tray of food, then tips her head in the direction of tables.

Ourania gives a low whistle. “The Deveaux Society? That’s a pretty exclusive club.” It paints Chess in a different light than what she previously cast her in. Chances are good, by O’s estimation, that the vast majority of those who work for the Society don’t know what it truly stands for. The legacy it’s been built upon. It means she tries not to make further assumptions about what sort of person Francesca Lang might be.

Since Chess is gracious enough to fetch, Ourania doesn’t need to have it insisted to her that she go and take a seat. She makes her way along with her cane and settles in at a table, patiently waiting until she’s joined by her new friend.

“I can imagine it’s interesting work, even on the administrative side.” The thread is picked up from where it was left, Ourania smiling as she helps divide their lunch orders. “They’ve got a lot of projects throughout the city. Even if you’re just seeing the administrative side of things… I don’t know, maybe I’m just a huge nerd that way. I hope it’s good work.”

After setting the tray down on the table, Chess lowers herself into the seat cross from Ourania. “I’m in all sorts of exclusive clubs,” she says with a laugh, shaking her head slightly. “None of which make me very good at anything in particular besides blowing shit up.”

She trucks a strand of hair behind her ear as she considers the lunch before them. “It is a good job, probably one a lot of people would do much better than I do, but I learn pretty fast. It’s just weird to do something so normal for a living.” She breaks apart a pair of wooden chopsticks and deftly picks up one of the potstickers. “Or have a living at all, I guess? It’s been a weird couple of years. Or, you know. Decade.”

Chess’ smile turns wry before she pops the potsticker into her mouth. “Good call on these,” she adds after chewing and swallowing. “Makes me almost nostalgic for a place back west that no longer exists.” One of the little cafes in Praxia that was her go-to spot for lunch most days, but she keeps that part to herself.

“Blowing shit up is a useful skill!” Ourania points out with a laugh that says she isn’t the least bit thrown by that comment. Maybe she should be. If she were normal, she might be. But maybe everyone knows someone with some unusual skill after a war of any magnitude.

There’s a bittersweetness to it. “Normal is…” Ourania shrugs her shoulders as she separates her chopsticks with a snap! that satisfies some small part of her, then sets them aside. “It’s new. I think everyone’s trying to figure out what normal is now. It’s not what it used to be before the war. And people were still trying to figure out what it was after the bomb in ‘06. People before that were trying to figure it out when they woke up one day and realized they could fly or hold fire in their hands or bend spoons with their minds and couldn’t tell anyone.”

While she starts one of the tacos, she listens to Chess speak, some of the light in her eyes dimming. There’s a constriction around her heart for the notion of places back west that no longer exist. Ourania smiles back and nods her head in a manner that she hopes conveys her empathy. “I’ve been trying to make a point of trying new places in the city as they open up or places I’ve missed before, trying to find new places to love.” A little more levity comes back to her, evidenced in the way the corners of her eyes crinkle just a bit. “Like this place.”

Chess’ smile turns wry at the talk of ‘normal,’ and she nods around a mouthful of potsticker. “A lot of what I thought was normal wasn’t so honestly, it’s one of those words that’s lost almost all meaning for me,” she admits. “Like when you’ve written a word too many times and it stops looking like actual English, you know?”

She wipes her mouth, none too primly. “There are some great places around. There’s a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant down the block and a Cuban place a couple blocks away; their tostones are delicious.” She reaches into her bag for a bottle of water, uncapping it for a quick sip.

“I grew up in Colorado, which is gorgeous, but you can’t beat this city for the food, even in its current state. I’m sure it was amazing before the war. And before 2006,” she adds, a little wistfully. “Are you from this area?”

“My therapist likes to tell me that normal is different for everybody. It really is one of the most loaded words, though, isn’t it?” Ourania shrugs her shoulders a bit, lets out a huff of breath that might have been a chuckle, given more energy. “Colorado’s a beautiful place. Lots wide open out there, right?” She shakes her head quickly. “I’ve seen pictures.”

The mention of other restaurants to try brings on a broader smile. “I’ll have to remember that. I’ve never had Ethiopian.” Ourania leans over her tray quickly as a portion of her taco decides to make a break for it, as is so often the case with tacos. None of it gets on her clothing, so that’s a win, but she sets it down and grabs for a napkin all the same.

“Yeah, I’m from nowhere that exists anymore. At least, not until it becomes something reclaimed. But that’s not likely to happen any time soon.” There’s a shrug of her shoulders that suggests Ourania’s made some sort of peace with this fact by now. “Manhattan makes a hell of a barrier between here and the Bronx. Not to mention this city’s distinct lack of bridges…”

That’s something that’s always felt so absurd in some fashion, that it’s become a running joke.

“I do miss seeing mountains but there’s not much I’d go back there for,” Chess says with a shrug about Colorado. The few years of happiness she’d had between early childhood and adolescence seem like a vague and foggy dream at this point.

She tips her head. “So you grew up in the Bronx?” she asks, unsure if that’s what Ourania means. “I’ve only been across a couple of the bridges we do have, over to SESA headquarters and, uh, Rikers Island.” She grimaces slightly, adding quickly, “To visit, that is. I have a friend and a family member over there.”

Chess’ brows draw together as the thought of Alix and Eve both in prison while she’s free evokes a pang of guilt deep in her chest. She looks down at her food, busying her hands by gathering up her own taco.

“Ah, yeah,” Ourania confirms with a nod of her head. “Spent my formative years there. I went off to study when I was just a teenager, and didn’t come back until recently, though. I wanted to try and help this place rebuild after everything. Put my knowledge to work helping others. It’s why I’m at Raytech.”

While she chews on a bite of potsticker, her expression remains one of interest, but stays even when Chess mentions Rikers, and that she was visiting. Ourania’s glad her mouth is full, because it saves her from making the mistake of asking if it’s anyone she knows.

The word rebuild draws a smile from Chess. “I didn’t get here until a couple years ago to help rebuild by destroying, I guess you could say. Demolitions stuff,” she says. “Didn’t do too much of that, though, due to, well, circumstances.”

She takes a bite of taco but sets it down again so she can keep all the pieces within it staying that way, rather than dropping into her lap. “Did you ever get to see a play with… I forget your friend’s name, at the Halloween gala?” she says, maybe to shift the conversation off of her spotty resume of work and those reasons why she doesn’t have more experience under her belt. “Castle — Basil — and me, we’ve talked of checking something out but work and other projects seem to keep that from happening.”

Nodding along with first interest, then sympathy, her expression turns over to a brighter one. Ourania is pleased that Chess remembered. “Harry! Yes, he took my niece and I to Kansas City over Thanksgiving to see a show.” Her empty hand rests over her heart. “It was… everything I wanted to be. It’s amazing to see a show in a space that’s just… dedicated to it! Way better than just going to a movie.” And she’s giddy about it still, for as profound an effect as it clearly had on her.

“We’ve not been to something local yet, but I’d like to. I know there’s a boat doing… dinner theatre, I think? Now that sounds like fun to me.” Ourania leans in, a conspiratorial little glint to her eye and the minute lowering of her voice. “Would you and Basil like to see a show with us?” The fact that she now has another name for Castle is filed away for later. She’d nearly emphasized it, but drawing attention to the fact that it’s piqued her interest seems a poor choice.

The mention of Kansas City elicits a soft huff of amusement from Chess. “I’ve only been to Kansas City once, and didn’t get to see anything fun,” she says wryly, the understatement sharp to her own ears and mind. “Washington. Whatever we’re supposed to call it these days.”

She takes another bite of food and lifts her brows at the mention of a boat doing shows. “He’d probably like that better than a normal theater. He actually lives on a boat. Me, I could probably count on one hand the number of boats I’ve been on a boat in my life, not counting paddle boats or canoes at a campsite.” She smiles, lifting her bottle to take a sip, and shakes her head. “We’re pretty much polar opposites in a lot of ways, but music and theater seem to be a place we align, usually.”

Setting the bottle down, Chess glances at her phone, then back to Ourania. “I can check. His work’s a bit unpredictable lately. But Harry’s up for it…” she stops and laughs, eyes widening. “Jesus. I just realized that’d be a double date. That’d be a first for me. Weird.

“First time for everything, right?” Ourania shrugs her shoulders, looking a little sheepish. “Basically my first one, too. I’ve had drinks with my ex and his wife so they could meet Harry — we’re all friends, so I personally didn’t find it awkward — but that wasn’t really a double date. More like a meet and greet.” She laughs and shakes her head.

Tugging her own phone out of her coat, Ourania unlocks it and opens it to the contacts app, starting a new entry before sliding the phone across the table to Chess. “Wanna give me your number? We can text or whatever it is that normal people do when they become friends?”

Chess’ brows lift at the talk of the other not-a-double date, and she chuckles softly at the request for her number. “Sure,” she says, reaching for the phone and tapping her number in with deft fingertips.

“Text me and I’ll have yours,” she says, sliding it back across the table. “Maybe my friends list will make it to double digits one of these days. That would also be a first.”

It’s said with a laugh — she’s not feeling sorry for herself. At least not about that. “I should get back to work, but it was really nice to run into you again.”

Chess rises, picking up the tray with the trash to get rid of it on her way out. “Hopefully this time you won’t have to run away from crazy gun-toting plant raiders.”

It’s just absurd enough that it gets a chuckle from Ourania while she types her message to Chess.

The cane-toting blonde with the dramatic boyfriend and an affinity for David Bowie. Let’s do lunch again soon. 🎶

Hopefully that’s descriptive enough to jog her memory later. “I’m glad we bumped into each other. Don’t work too hard, huh?”

Apparently still having time in her lunch break, Pride doesn’t rise from her seat. She simply lifts her hand and waves as Chess begins to depart. “Be well!” As she watches the woman disappear around a corner, she lets out a quiet sigh and silently hopes she won’t screw this one up this time.

Maybe, just maybe, Odessa can start to carve some kind of normal out for herself.

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